Pink Floyd – Meddle

One of the important things I learned from Pink Floyd is if you want to discover a great album by a band, listen to the one they released just before their big breakthrough.

I had never heard anything off of “Meddle” when I first bought it. Well, at least I thought I hadn’t. I was actually hoping to find the album that had a Pink Floyd instrumental I had heard only a couple of times but absolutely dug. The problem is if you never catch the radio jock announcing the name of an instrumental, how do you know the song’s name? (Note to young people, these were primitive times; before cell phones, the Internet, and even home computers. Hell, we thought digital were cool.) What I never caught until I bought “Meddle” though, was the spoken words somewhat buried in the instrumental – 13 words to be exact. Four of them are “One of These Days”.

By the time I bought ‘Meddle”, I already owned and loved “The Wall”, “Animals”, “Wish You Were Here”, and “Dark Side of the Moon”. Trying to find that elusive instrumental, I delved to Pink Floyd’s earlier catalog. They had already released my four favorite albums to that point, so I didn’t feel much risk in buying one by them that I had never heard. The one just prior to DSotM seemed the natural choice to make. Not only did I find the ever elusive instrumental I was searching for, I also found my fifth favorite album at the time.

“Fearless”, with its addictive riff that rises up and then drops off, the laid back coastal feel of “San Tropez” and the genius of letting your dog howl the melody over blues chords in “Seamus” (that’s the dog) were some of the other ear candy I would discover on side one of “Meddle”. Side two is all one song: “Echoes”, a near 24 minute masterpiece of sonic ambience, experimentalism, and musicianship. With its distinct single opening grand piano note amped through a Leslie speaker, it near instantly became one of my all-time favorite Pink Floyd songs. It still is today, just as “Meddle” is still one of my favorite albums ever. Just as it always will be.

Ten Years After – Ssssh

Released just before guitarist Alvin Lee’s blistering performance at the original Woodstock festival in 1969, “Ssssh” is blues rock at its absolute best. The band set out to capture something close to their live sound in the studio. While less elaborate than their previous album “Stonehenge” (which Alvin Lee admits was Ten Years After showing off what they could do in the studio) it is no less ambitious.

Most of the songs here are blues rock scorchers. That’s what Ten Years After did best, which they proved at Woodstock. On “Ssssh” Alvin Lee proved what an amazing talent he was on six strings and Ten Years After proved what an incredible band they were, be it live or in the studio.

Samantha Fish – Chills and Fever

Samantha Fish is to blues, what Amy Winehouse was to jazz; a breath of freshness and youth added to old school inspiration. I had a friend recently recommend Samantha Fish to me. After checking her music out on the Internet, I knew it was time to add some more blues to my collection, a style that in the traditional sense I will admit my vinyl collection doesn’t have enough of.

Samantha Fish doesn’t look the part of the music she plays, not that there is a specific look for the blues. The blues is all about the music, and so is this multi-talented singer, guitarist, and songwriter from Kansas City, Missouri. “Chills and Fever” that is going to give Buddy Guy and B.B. King, and Bonnie Raitt have some serious competition when I’m in the mood to cue up an old school blues album.

Ray Charles – Genius Live In Concert

I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Ray Charles perform live in 1986. Even though this album was recorded 22 years prior, it perfectly captures the magic I will always remember experiencing that night.

I remember watching Ray dancing in his seat, swaying and stomping his feet as the music he was playing and singing took him over, and as he took over the entire audience. I remember Ray being so taken over at one point, he jumped out of his seat, dancing on the stage to his band’s music. Nobody worried that he was blind; this was too sublime a moment for God to allow anything to go wrong. I remember Ray’s quick wit shutting down a close to the front row heckler with just a few words. No more was to be said; that evening belonged to Ray Charles.

I remember that night, experiencing a “Genius Live in Concert”. There is no other way to describe Ray Charles perform. A “Genius Live in Concert” is exactly what this album captures.

Billie Holiday – Billie’s Blues

When you look up the word “singer” in any dictionary, if it said nothing else, it should say “Billie Holiday”.

Billie Holiday defined what every singer should aspire to achieve: to take any song they are given and make it their own. Billie Holiday knew no other way to sing. She never received any musical training, she had absolutely no singing experience the day she walked into a nightclub asking for a job, any job, just so she could eat. They asked her if she could dance. She tried, but failed miserably. They asked if she could sing. She gave that a shot. A legend was discovered.

Life was not kind to Billie Holiday. Music made it easier for her, and while it did lift some of the burden for a time, it never made her life easy. In her singing, along with the pain, Billie Holiday’s voice always carried a note of strength and fortitude. “Lady Day”, as her friend and long time collaborator Lester Young referred her, would go on to influence countless artists in the decades that followed her.

Sadly, the same night Billie Holiday sang her first song, at that same nightclub, she also had her first drink. Alcohol would prove to be Billie Holiday’s nemesis. She died in 1955 at the age of 44 from cirrhosis of the liver, ending the 20 year career of a jazz legend.

Foghat

There are blues rock bands and there are blues rock bands…and then there are real blues rock bands like Foghat.

I’ve heard some modern artists today talk about being real. It’s almost become a cliché – sometimes it’s all talk. If you want to listen to a band that walked the walk…if you want to hear a band that was real, listen to any Foghat album.

Foghat was all about American blues rock. They played it hard and true. So true, that when most people first heard them, they didn’t realize they were a British band. As for me…well.. guilty as charged.

It wasn’t until I started digging back into Foghat’s early catalogue that I realized they weren’t an American blues rock band. Actually, it wasn’t until I dug beyond that. After going back to their eponymous debut, I was curious about how Foghat started; where they came from. And then I learned that Foghat was born from the ashes of Savoy Brown.

But wait…Savoy Brown was British…Holy crap! That meant that Foghat had to be…NO F’ING WAY! Foghat was a Brit band?!?! Up until then, I thought these guys were a tried and true American blues based rock band.

Then it dawned on me. That is what Foghat really is – an American blues based rock band. Sure, they came from across the Atlantic, but American blues is where their heart was. It’s what inspired them. It’s what they loved to play. It’s all they ever played. It’s what made them real.

Foghat was the most real American blues rock band ever. They just happened to be British.

David Gilmour – About Face

The future of Pink Floyd was uncertain in 1984. The band was going through turmoil and fans like me were guessing there may not ever be another album by them. That’s why I grabbed a copy of David Gilmour’s second solo album when it came out in 1984.

I had been somewhat disappointed by Pink Floyd’s album that came out the previous year. It’s not that “The Final Cut” was a bad album, it was just that it treaded no new territory, sounding like a continuation of the mostly Roger Waters epic “The Wall”. To me, Pink Floyd was always about doing something different new; going in a direction they hadn’t before. One album always sounded distinctly unique from its predecessor, yet still sounded like Pink Floyd. Enter “About Face”.

I’m not saying that “About Face” sounds like a Pink Floyd record; at least not totally. I remember reading that some of the musical ideas on it were presented as ideas for “The Final Cut” but were rejected by Roger Waters who made that album more of a solo project than the next Floyd album. His loss.

There are strong influences of where Gilmour had come from on “About Face”. His guitar had the same distinct tone heard on Pink Floyd albums, but there was more. Reggae influences on “Cruise”, funk/R&B on “Blue Light”, full orchestration on the instrumental “Let’s Get Metaphysical”, a couple straight ahead rockers – it was nothing like an album Pink Floyd would have ever done, which is why, to me, “About Face” sounded like what the next Pink Floyd album could have been. It wasn’t though. It was a David Gilmour solo record, which in the end, was just as good.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Gold

Despite coming from the San Francisco Bay area in California, Creedence Clearwater Revival had a sound rooted in the Delta blues of the deep south. It wasn’t until many years after I had first heard them that I learned they weren’t from Louisiana or Mississippi. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who made that assumption when they first heard CCR.

Creedence was one of the most successful bands in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but that success came with a price. The band had a bitter split up in 1972 and numerous lawsuits resulted over the rights to the use of their music. At one point, while pursuing a solo career, lead singer and primary songwriter John Fogerty was sued over royalties for performing CCR songs on stage; songs that he himself had written. The rift between the members ran so deep that even when CCR was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame more than 30 years after the band’s demise, Fogerty refused to take the stage with the other members at the ceremony.

Gold is a great collection of the biggest hit songs by Credence Clearwater Revival. All of the songs on it are timeless staples of classic rock radio. The album cover is also one of the coolest released by any band. Four silhouettes, one representing each band member is die cut and cascade layered, one on top of the other. Behind each silhouette, there is a photo of the band member in the silhouette.

Great album cover. Great band. Great songs. There’s nothing not to like here.

Procol Harum – Grand Hotel

Procol Harum was a band that could combine classical and rock music better than most any other band. “Grand Hotel” was Procol Harum’s first studio album without guitar virtuoso Robin Trower who left to pursue a solo career in 1972. Fortunately, Trower’s departure didn’t affect the band’s sound very much. Like their previous albums, “Grand Hotel” was an avant-garde blending of baroque era classical music with blues and rock.

Because of its unique combination of styles “Grand Hotel” is an album I can listen to almost any time, although I prefer it to be at times I can really focus on the interplay of all the musical elements and shifting rhythms and time signatures. Although not a concept album by definition, “Grand Hotel” is an album that should be listed to as a whole. As with most Procol Harum records, it is obvious that the goal when recording it was not so much to have a hit single as it was to album that is an intriguing listening experience.

B. B. King – Live At The Regal

It was on a cold night on November 21, 1964, in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, when B. B. King recorded one of the most highly regarded blues albums of all time.

There’s a reason B. B. King is a blues legend. To know that reason, all you need to do is listen to “Live at The Regal”. The blues is meant to be more than just listened to; it’s music that needs to be felt. That cold November night at The Regal Theatre, B. B. King felt it and just as importantly, the audience felt it. Then again when I listen to B. B. King’s distinct voice and guitar, the real question I have to ask with “Live at the Regal” on the turntable is “how could you not?”